NEW HAVEN, CT — The New Haven fire chief just launched an internal investigation into whether some of his firefighters are abusing leave time. It has to do with firefighters who have exhausted all other leave time and still get paid to stay home. The time off is known as special leave, and it can be used for a myriad of reasons, including sickness and schooling.
It’s valid so long as the firefighter who needs off finds a colleague willing to cover the shift. The person filling in doesn’t get over time.
Here’s how it works: Firefighter “A” wants to be off for Christmas, so they ask Firefighter “B” to work their shift. It’s perfectly legal under fire department Rules. But what is not legal is Firefighter “A” offering a cash payment to Firefighter “B” to work their shift.
The alleged cash payments are off the books and tax free, and that is part of what the fire chief is now investigating. There are also concerns about how special leave abuse might impact staffing and response times to fires. So far, there is no evidence that any New Haven firefighter swapped cash for time off.
Chief John Alston told only News 8 of the investigation after we got tipped off to allegations and took the concerns to fire headquarters.
Alston couldn’t appear on camera, so he issued this statement saying in part, “the matter you spoke of today gave me great concern and I have launched an internal investigation to determine if and who may have abused or misused this practice. We are in the process of reviewing records of all personnel for the last 12 months to determine if there are any irregularities or anomalies.”
The firefighters’ union pushed back saying in part, “special leave has no impact on the budget, fire protection or emergency medical response and is governed by the contract,” said Frank Ricci, president of IAFF Local 825.